Andy Rourke, the commanding bassist of beloved British rock band the Smiths, has died at age 59. The band's guitarist, Johnny Marr, announced the news on social media Friday.
"It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer," he wrote. "Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans. We request privacy at this sad time."
A representative for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York confirmed the news to The New York Times.
Rourke joined the Smiths in 1982 and is featured on all of their hits, including "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," "This Charming Man," and "How Soon Is Now?"
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer.
Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans.
We request privacy at this sad time pic.twitter.com/KNehQxXoFz
— Johnny Marr (@Johnny_Marr) May 19, 2023
Born in Manchester, England, Rourke got his start as a musician after receiving a guitar for his birthday as a child. He would later meet Johnny Marr at school, and the pair would strike up a fast friendship playing music together in bands throughout their teenage years. It was Marr who suggested that Rourke take up bass, an instrument with which he immediately fell in love.
Marr tapped Rourke to join the Smiths, alongside vocalist Morrissey and drummer Mike Joyce, shortly after the band was formed. The quartet went on to reach mainstream success with the release of their self-titled debut album in 1984. Their follow-up, 1985's Meat is Murder, not only became the group's first and only record to hit the top of the U.K. albums chart, but also received international acclaim, charting at number 110 on the U.S. Billboard 200.
In 1986, Rourke was temporarily kicked out of the Smiths because of his heroin addiction, only to return weeks later. Their third record, titled The Queen Is Dead, was released the same year and is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.
The Smiths' fourth and final record, Strangeways, Here We Come, was released months after the band had broken up in 1987.
Pete Still/Redferns Andy Rourke
Following the dissolution of the group, Rourke went on to play and record with a host of other acts, including the Pretenders, Badly Drawn Boy, and Ian Brown. He also formed the supergroup Freebass, the band D.A.R.K., and cofounded Manchester's Versus Cancer concert series, which ran from 2006 until 2009. The events featured performances by New Order, Happy Mondays, Badly Drawn Boy, the Doves, Johnny Marr and the Healers, Noel Gallagher, and more.
In a tribute on his website, Morrissey remembered Rourke as a one-of-a-kind star.
"Sometimes one of the most radical things you can do is to speak clearly. When someone dies, out come the usual blandishments … as if their death is there to be used. I'm not prepared to do this with Andy," Morrissey wrote. "I just hope … wherever Andy has gone … that he's OK. He will never die as long as his music is heard."
He continued, "He didn't ever know his own power, and nothing that he played had been played by someone else. His distinction was so terrific and unconventional, and he proved it could be done. He was also very, very funny and very happy, and post-Smiths, he kept a steady identity — never any manufactured moves. I suppose, at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that."
Joyce remembered Rourke as "not only the most talented bass player I've ever had the privilege to play with but the sweetest, funniest lad I've ever met." He added, "Andy's left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate."
Marr later paid tribute in a moving Instagram post, writing, "Andy will always be remembered, as a kind and beautiful soul by everyone who knew him, and as a supremely gifted musician by people who love music."